Whether you celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday or as a cultural tradition, It’s a great time for moral inventory. This is reflected, if not in the marketplace, then in nearly all films produced for the annual. As usual, the moral inventory motivator prize goes to the National Film Board of Canada, whose ethical exhortations are focused on the worthy virtues of environmental stewardship, humility, simplicity, and thinking positive.
For just one evening, forego the annual television specials and Pixar flicks. Instead, spend an evening in the company of your children other enlightened family and friends, sipping mulled cider and watching NFB Christmas animation shorts. Here are some gems to start you off:
Bear witnesses the dark side of Christmas: the pressure to be of good cheer that brings loneliness into harsh relief, the commercial frenzy that leaves the needy feeling the full brunt of their plight, and the patronizing, self-righteous acts of charity that humiliate the proud poor.
Bear has that Northern Ontario accent we love, and he’s just a regular working schmo, a hoser whose butt-crack shows and who takes delight in simple pleasures. You’ll love him even more when you see how his lovely, innocent optimism prevails in spite of it all.
Movie: The Energy Carol
Director: Les Drew
A witty Scrooge-reflecting public awareness tale, produced during the seventies energy crisis, even more relevant today than it was then, and a sad reminder that we still haven’t learned. But unlike the Dickens version, this oil mogul is actually likeable?he’s charming when he tells his assistant to leave the heat on in the office while no one’s there for the holidays, and he delights in showering his family with electrical appliances. And when he reforms he’s no more appealing; he offers turkey-flavoured gruel to his hosts so they won’t have to bake a turkey.
Movie: Christmas Cracker
Directors: Jeff Hale, Norman McLaren, Grant Munro, and Gerald Potteton
A small collection of Christmas shorts including felt cut-outs, a sweet little stop-motion circus staged with those wonderful and dangerous (now vintage) metal toys from the sixties, and an animation on the aesthetic dilemma represented by the task of ornamenting a conifer (steampunks will love the solution), all rich with the philosophical commentary for which the NFB is renowned.
Movie: Noel Noel
Director: Nicola Lemay
Narrator: Leslie Nielsen
A clever narrative poem about another Scrooge-like businessman who lives for the consumer debauchery of the Christmas season. He’s been warned that there are certain things more precious than the things in themselves. Also a cogent insight into how men’s minds sometimes work (like when we tell them what we want and they don’t believe us and give us something else).
Money can’t buy love, and neither can consumer goods replace loving words spoken from the heart.